The Common Good in Times of Crisis

September 24, 2021

We live in a time when our lives are impacted by complex global crises in both immediate and subtle ways. The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to shape the ways we live, learn, and work together. Climate crises—from floods in China to wildfires in the western United States—are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity. Economic and climate crises are pushing people to cross borders. The pandemic, climate change, global migration, and other global crises can easily feel overwhelming. But they also present us with an opportunity to consider our connections to others, the common good, and how even seemingly small actions can make a difference.

This Teaching Idea invites students to explore how their actions and the actions of their leaders can help to promote the common good in a time of crisis. This framework can be used to discuss any complex global issue.

What follows are teacher-facing instructions for the activities. Find student-facing instructions in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

  1. How Are We Interconnected?

    In March 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric Ward, a civil rights strategist and director of the Western States Center, wrote:

    The truth of our interconnectedness has never been more apparent.1

    Share this quote with your students, and ask them to reflect on the following questions, first in small groups and then as a full class:

    • How would you define the term interconnected?
    • How have you experienced the “truth of our interconnectedness” over the past year?

    As a class, look at the headlines on the front page of a reputable news source (such as the AP or NPR), and then discuss together:

    • How do the stories in the news reflect our interconnectedness?
    • What are some other examples of how people are interconnected in the world today?

    Note: You can also use the Text-to-Text, Text-to-Self, Text-to-World teaching strategy to guide your students to analyze a news story and explore further connections.

    Remote Learning Note: Use the Slides for this Teaching Idea to share the quote from Eric Ward with your students and reflect as a class using the discussion questions. Then, share your screen to show students the headlines from a reputable news source. Students can reflect on the final questions individually or in small groups in virtual breakout rooms. 

  2. What Is the Common Good?

    Share with your students that some philosophers have proposed that since individuals’ well-beings are often interconnected, we should focus on finding collective solutions to problems in society. This “common good approach” is found in multiple philosophical traditions around the world.

    Share the following two explanations of the term common good with your students:

    From Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel:

    The common good is about how we live together in community. It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, the sacrifices we make for one another. It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life.2

    From the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University:

    Appeals to the common good urge us to view ourselves as members of the same community, reflecting on broad questions concerning the kind of society we want to become and how we are to achieve that society. While respecting and valuing the freedom of individuals to pursue their own goals, the common-good approach challenges us also to recognize and further those goals we share in common.3

    Then, ask your students to develop their own definition of the term common good. Students can use both writing and illustrations as part of their definition.

    Remote Learning Note: Place students into small groups in virtual breakout rooms and ask them to develop a definition of common good together. Then, bring students back as a full class and ask for volunteers from several groups to share their definitions with the class. 

  3. What Choices Can Individuals Make to Promote the Common Good in Times of Crisis?

    For this activity, choose one crisis to focus on, such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty, or global migration.

    Begin by sharing a brief overview of the issue with your students or by asking your students to collectively brainstorm what they already know about this issue. Then, ask your students to use Project Zero’s 3 Ys thinking routine to help them reflect on how the issue you are examining impacts both individuals and communities:

    • Why does this issue matter to me?
    • Why does this issue matter to my community?
    • Why does this issue matter to the world?

    Then, write the following questions on your board where students can see them:

    • What actions can I take to help others related to this issue?
    • What actions can other individuals in my community take?
    • What actions can leaders or politicians take?

    Ask students to share their answers to the questions. You can assign one student to be a designated note-taker who writes their classmate’s responses on the board, or you can give students sticky notes and allow them to write their own responses and post them on the board under the corresponding question. Students can choose to focus on just one question or answer multiple.

    Once students have finished sharing, use the following questions to guide a reflective discussion:

    • What patterns do you notice between the responses? Were there any responses that surprised you? Why?
    • Why might the actions that elected leaders take be different from other individuals? How does the responsibility to act change when someone has a leadership role?
    • How could the actions listed here help to promote the common good? 

    Remote Learning Note: Ask students to reflect using the 3 Ys thinking routine individually. Then, ask them to respond to the next set of questions (What actions can I take to help others related to this issue? What actions can other individuals in my community take? What actions can leaders or politicians take?) on a padlet shared with the class. Once students have finished responding, ask them to read through their classmates’ responses and reflect together as a class.

  4. What Choices Can We Make in the Future?

    Ask your students to reflect on the following prompts in their journals or on an exit card:

    • I came in thinking . . .
      (What did you think about this issue before?)
    • Now I think . . .
      (How has your thinking changed or deepened?)
    • Next I want to . . .
      (What actions can you take in the future to promote the common good around this issue?) 

    Remote Learning Note: For guidance on using journals during remote learning, see our teaching strategy Journals in a Remote Learning Environment. For guidance on using exit cards during remote learning, see our Exit Card routine.


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